Canada (Western University) Sustaining WindEEE’s Excellence Entails Digital Transformation

Our changing climate is affecting the timing, location and might of hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather events, and Western University is at the forefront of international research into how to build structures and cities strong enough to withstand the blows.

The university’s WindEEE Dome, a vast hexagonal space where 3-D printed models of buildings and other structures are tested for their resilience against controlled blasts of wind, recently received a multi-million-dollar investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and WindEEE director Girma Bitsuamlak wasted no time in locking down commitments and collaborations with international partners for research projects at the facility.

“My goal is to maintain and fortify Western’s leadership in wind engineering internationally,” said Bitsuamlak, a Western engineering professor. “We are already recognized for our wind engineering research and scientific experimentation, but I want the WindEEE Dome to be considered as an important and vital partner for researchers around the world and an essential indicator for advancing wind engineering projects from concept to reality.”

This fall, Bitsuamlak was a presenter at the European-African Conference on Wind Engineering in Bucharest and returned with academic and industry research projects from new partners in England, Germany and Romania enabled through Horizon Infrastructure project form European Commission.

He was also an invited speaker and panelist at the National Science Foundation’s Natural Hazards Summit in Washington and recruited more collaborators looking to leverage the world’s first hexagonal wind-testing chamber to further their research on severe weather, structure resiliency, sustainable and safer communities.

“We have the expertise, a critical mass of wind researchers, and world-class facilities so it makes sense that we make ourselves available to effect positive change locally, nationally and internationally,” Bitsuamlak said.

With 106 independently controlled fans and hundreds of flow modifiers in 3D space, the WindEEE Dome (Wind Engineering, Energy and Environment Dome) enables scientists to recreate complex wind systems such as tornadoes, downbursts and hurricanes.

The facility’s large scale (25 metres diameter for the inner dome and 40 metres for the outer dome) allows for wind simulations over extended areas and complex terrain.

But to investigate larger, even more complex topographies, physical experimentation will require a digital transformation, Bitsuamlak said.

Bitsuamlak, an expert on developing climate-resilient and sustainable buildings and neighbourhoods, is hard at work on a secondary field of research to ensure there will be no bottleneck in physical experimentation at WindEEE and other Western’s wind engineering facilities: Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory and the Three Little Pigs Laboratory. Along with Western Engineering PhD candidate Tewodros Alemayehu, he is developing new machine learning techniques for generating 3-D models of complex topographies and cityscapes using satellite imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR).

Developing a Digital WindEEE will provide more tools to tackle wind and climate-engineering problems on a global scale, Bitsuamlak said.

“Right now, everything we do at WindEEE happens in the laboratory and we are super-competent at delivering the crucial turbulent wind data for building climate-resilient and sustainable communities,” Bitsuamlak said. “But not all the problems are solved there. Developing better computational tools and technologies allows us to start work on a project before physical experimentation even begins, and to study the effect of other climate extremes such as summer heat waves and cold Canadian winters on the built environment”